The PM has thrown Britain’s jigsaw pieces in the air

May's Brexit speech echoes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

 

“I have also been determined from the start that the devolved administrations should be fully engaged in this process.”

Those were the warm words that Theresa May used in her Brexit speech yesterday, words which mean very little given the lack of any concessions to the governments at Holyrood and Cardiff Bay.

The Prime Minister’s speech came as the Scottish parliament yesterday gave decisive support for the Scottish government’s efforts to stay in the Single Market, even if the UK as a whole leaves it. It was a position supported not just by the SNP but by Scottish Labour as well.

Officially the Scottish government’s proposals will be considered at a meeting tomorrow of ministers from across the devolved bodies convened to discuss Brexit on a regular basis.

The reality however, is that despite the PM’s talk of engaging with the devolved bodies, ministers in Whitehall will not get behind such an idea, emboldened by declarations from the Spanish and  French governments that such a plan will not be accepted.

Scotland then finds itself in the middle of a dangerous stand-off – caught between Theresa May gambling that Scotland won’t seek independence and Nicola Sturgeon’s belief the people of Scotland will eventually choose union with Europe over England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In Wales meanwhile, First Minister Carwyn Jones had clearly not go the memo from Number 10, having told the Welsh assembly yesterday:

“One of the contradictions that were expressed by the Prime Minister was that she said that the British parliament should have a vote on the final deal.

Fine, but a lot of that will involve devolved areas.

There has to be at least a legislative consent motion through this assembly before the British parliament can take that vote.

And what of Northern Ireland, now in the grips of an election that was already looking likely to be a difficult to say the least?

The PM has pledged that there will be no return to the days of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland, but, as Carwyn Jones noted clearly:

“In terms of customs, are we then to see the return of the customs posts on that border, and customs posts in our Welsh ports?

That issue hasn’t been resolved at all—and the effect that would have on the throughput of vehicles and people through those ports.”

He added:

“What I fear more than anything else is that, somehow, Northern Ireland gets a better deal in terms of customs than Wales does.

That will channel traffic through Cairnryan, and possibly through Stranraer, in the future, at a cost of jobs in the Welsh ports.

So, whatever happens, the situation, whether it is the Welsh ports or the Northern Ireland border, has to be the same in order to ensure that fairness of treatment.”

Predictably, Sinn Fein have warned of a hard border coming whatever the Prime Minister might say.

But in the midst of a heated election in an area of the country that voted to stay in the European Union, it’s difficult to predict how the UK government’s plans for Brexit negotiations are likely to play out.

Theresa May has thrown all the jigsaw puzzle pieces in the air. When it comes to the future of the UK, she must be desperately hoping that they land in the correct place. But is hope enough?

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

See: PMQs: Angus Robertson slams ‘Little Britain Brexit’ as May stonewalls

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